A group of Shiite Muslims attacked an Assyrian Christian town in northern Iraq on Christmas morning, according to reports over the weekend.

Well, the Iraqi Islamic extremists carried through their Christmas threats of violence and harassment of Iraqi Christians.

Previous Iraq Christmas posts:-

The deadly Christmas Eve ambush of a Christian bus driver in Iraq Thursday and a bombing earlier this week targeting a 1,200-year-old church are driving Iraq’s few remaining Christians quietly underground in the hours before the holy day begins.

IRAQ – Bishop Shlemon Warduni in his Christmas sermon on Friday urged Christians not to be intimidated by a string of deadly attacks against the minority community but warned they should not linger near churches.

Christan Today

A group of Shiite Muslims attacked an Assyrian Christian town in northern Iraq on Christmas morning, according to reports over the weekend.

The assailants, a minority ethnic group called Shabak, took over the entry checkpoint into the Christian-dominated town of Bartilla, about 28 miles north of Mosul, and tore down Christmas decorations in the Assyrian market, reported Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).

Witnesses say they also harassed a Christian procession headed toward St Mary church, throwing rocks at the group.

Around 100 armed Shabaks later tried to enter St Mary Church but church guards reportedly blocked them from entering, leading to a conflict and an exchange of gunfire that left four Christians wounded.

Assyrians in Bartilla, who are unarmed, fear more attacks against their community in the near future.

According to AINA, Christians in Bartilla say they did not provoke the attack and have in the past worked with Shabaks to advocate for the rights of ethnic minorities in Iraq.

The Shabak assailants are residents of Bartilla and were said to have been led by Hassan Ganjou, who is allegedly a former member of the Mahdi Army (JAM) and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and now works as a security guard for a Shabak parliament member.

The attack in Bartilla followed a church bombing at St Thomas Church in Mosul on last Wednesday that killed two men and wounded five others.

Since 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed in Iraq, and since June 2004, some 65 churches have been attacked or bombed, including 40 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, five in Kirkuk, and one in Ramadi.

Human rights groups such as Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom have criticised the Iraqi government for not doing enough to protect the country’s Christian minority.

The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that since 2003, some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians have left the country, which translates to about half the Christian population leaving within six years.

2009: The Anglican Year of Living Dangerously – It was a year that Anglican leaders might well breathe a sigh of relief has passed.

Excellent analysis on the Anglican ‘annus horribilis’ from David over at the VirtueOnline website.

2009: The Anglican Year of Living Dangerously

It was a year of turmoil and upheaval that included two resolutions on sexuality passed at The Episcopal Church’s 76th annual General Convention that promise to further isolate The Episcopal Church from the Anglican mainstream. It was the year the birth took place of a new Anglican province on North American soil; a lesbian was elected bishop in an ultra-liberal Episcopal diocese; litigation increased over property in the US and Canada; a pope offered a “safe haven” for traditionalist Anglicans across the world; and a Covenant was finalized that many believe holds little promise of keeping an increasingly feuding and fractured communion together.

Queen Elizabeth II made famous the phrase “annus horribilis” to describe her own personal travails in 1992. Dr. Rowan Williams might well echo those two words as he looks back on the year that has passed from the walls of Lambeth Palace. His personal cry might well be, “Nevertheless, let this cup pass from me….”

The Anglican Communion followed the bell curve of a worldwide economic recession with its own spiritual and ecclesiastical recession. The Episcopal Church’s $141 million budget (down some $23 million and possibly more), described by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as “death”, was reflected in church program and budget cuts that saw 37 of its 180 staff eliminated. If TEC were a publicly traded company, it would be a penny stock bearing in mind that its 109 dioceses failed to show any growth (with the notable exception of South Carolina) with diocese after diocese reporting lost income, closing parishes and aging congregants. Some experienced added legal costs fighting to retain properties.

With no discernible gospel to proclaim, there seems little likelihood that the lost ground will ever be made up. Couple that with the increasing flight of mega evangelical parishes from both liberal and orthodox dioceses, the church seems bent on isolating and destroying the very wing that can make it grow. Millions of dollars were racked up in legal fees as orthodox parishes from coast to coast fled their revisionist task masters, at the same time pushing their ownership claims from local courts to ever higher courts in the hopes they might be vindicated.

All Saints’ Pawleys Island claimed victory over the Diocese of South Carolina. A dozen orthodox parishes in the Diocese of Virginia seem ready to run up the victory flag as they win one legal battle after another in their desire to keep their properties. But cases in Southern California, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania moved in the opposite direction with the diocese and national church claiming victory. The Dennis Canon seems invulnerable to legal challenge it would seem. Three whole dioceses still remain in legal limbo ready to do battle in 2010, promising a legal blood bath. The battle for the Diocese of Ft. Worth promises to be the bloodiest.

One attorney privately admitted to VOL that when all is said and done (and no one knows when that will be as new property battles erupt almost weekly), the total legal bill for both sides could be well over $100 million. The Diocese of Colorado spent over $3 million out of its treasury to go after Fr. Don Armstrong while his side spent over $1 million. Extrapolate that out in some 60 lawsuits and it doesn’t take brain surgery to know where “mission” money is being spent. The enormously well-endowed Church Pension Fund failed to give a cost of living increase, leaving one to wonder it the church isn’t self destructing in its sexual obsessions.

The ecclesiastical rough housing began in February when the Primates met in Alexandria, Egypt. The Windsor Continuation Group Report asked the obvious question as to whether the Anglican Communion suffers from an “ecclesial deficit.” In other words, do we have the necessary theological, structural and cultural foundations to sustain the life of the Communion? The primates argued that they needed “to move to communion with autonomy and accountability” and to develop the capacity to address divisive issues in a timely and effective way, while learning “the responsibilities and obligations of interdependence”. Of course asking the obvious question does not guarantee getting the obvious answer.

At the end, the meeting proved a bust. Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone told VOL that the orthodox Primates had a peace and clarity about them. Then he said, “The liberal expression of the faith hasn’t got life and truth. We were all agreed. There are two very different understandings of the Christian Faith now living together, indeed at war with one another in the Anglican Communion and the situation has no long term resolution. It would take a miracle to keep it together and Dr. Rowan Williams understands that. He will try and keep it together for as long as he can under his watch.” It was a truthful but sad indictment on the state of affairs in the Anglican Communion. As the year progressed events only got worse.

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), aka as the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), met in May in Jamaica to hammer out a draft for an Anglican Communion Covenant, in particular, the Ridley Cambridge Draft, and also to appoint a small working group to consider and consult with the Provinces on section 4 and its possible revision, and to report to the next meeting of the Joint Standing Committee. What took place in Jamaica had little to do with property, ecclesiology or theology. It had everything to do with politics. The political maneuvering saw Archbishop Williams personally intervening four times. In the end, over massive objections from liberal archbishops and others, the ABC was asked to appoint a small working group to consider and consult with the provinces on Section 4. The ABC urged delegates not to “put off discussion of the covenant simply because of that detail we are finalizing.”

As they departed, Williams mournfully noted that there “may or may not be lasting division” in the Communion. “Before we say goodbye to each other in the Communion, we owe it to the Lord of the Church to have those conversations and to undertake that effort at listening to one another and taking one another seriously in the gospel.”

“Have we manufactured a large stone called ‘an Anglican covenant’ that will seal off creative, faithful life in the communion?” asked ACC chairman and Diocese of Auckland Bishop John Paterson, referring to the stone closing off Jesus’ tomb and the council’s work on the proposed Anglican covenant, in his sermon at the ACC’s closing Eucharist. “I trust not.”

In late May, VOL broke the news that The Rev. Thew Forrester would not be the next Bishop of Northern Michigan. Some 50 bishops and 52 Standing Committees who gave him the thumbs down believed that the single candidate, though elected by his diocese, practiced Buddhism, which informed his Christian teaching. He also confirmed that that his congregation often used locally written Eucharistic rites rather than those found and used in the Book of Common Prayer. A number of bishops voting “no” went public with their disagreement with him and said why they were withholding consents.

A majority of The House of Bishops have turned its collective back on The Rev. Thew Forrester. While some 25 bishops have yet to declare their hand, he would need more than that to turn it around.

In June, Anglicanism in North America took a right turn. In Plano, Texas, Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America rose up before several thousand mostly former Episcopalians and announced to the entire world that he was now the archbishop of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America. He told a press conference that the church he would now lead will “reunite a significant portion of our Anglican Church family here in North America.

“We are uniting 700 congregations, (and 28 dioceses) and more importantly committed Anglican believers, in the north (Arctic) and in the south, on the west coast and the east coast. We are oriented toward a hopeful future again. We are not turning back to the hurts of our past. We are moving forward together in Christian mission. The main thing is Jesus Christ.”

Duncan drew a wide net saying that God isn’t just bringing Anglican Christians together, “across the church people are re-embracing Scripture’s authority. Christians are rediscovering the grace of our 2,000 year-old tradition.” At year’s end, Duncan called for the planting and raising up of 1000 churches during his ministry.

July saw the triennial gathering of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Anaheim, California, where Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori acknowledged that there was indeed a crisis in the church. She put her best spin on it by saying “crisis is always a remarkable opportunity. General Convention is always a time of critical decision-making.”

Sex was on the mind of delegates as they gathered near the Disney fantasy-world. Two crucial resolutions – D025 and C056 – passed. The first called for affirming God’s call to gay and lesbian persons in all orders of ministry. The second called for the church to collect and develop “theological resources and liturgies for the blessing of same-gender relationships.” Both the houses of bishops and deputies passed the resolutions by wide margins even though the Archbishop of Canterbury had urged the HOB to reject the measure. His call went unheeded.

One small item stood in the way — Resolution B033, a controversial resolution passed at GC2006, which called on “standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate whose “manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on the communion.”

Following the passage of D025 and C056, Jefferts Schori sent a hurried note off to Dr. Williams assuring him that B033 had not been rescinded and the two resolutions were merely descriptive and not prescriptive.

The Presiding Bishop admitted in her letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury that she views the Communion moratorium on gay and lesbian bishops as merely advisory at best. In defending the passage of D025, she digs a bigger hole for TEC by describing D025 as “more descriptive than prescriptive.” She goes on to say that “Some within our Church may understand Resolution D025 to give Standing Committees…and Bishops with jurisdiction more latitude in consenting to episcopal elections.”

At least 36 bishops were not convinced and they endorsed the “Anaheim Statement” which pledged to honor requests made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the 2008 Lambeth conference, the Primates’ meetings and the Anglican Consultative Council to observe the Windsor Report’s moratoria on same-sex blessings, as well as cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate. They also reaffirmed their commitment to the Anglican Communion covenant process.

Shockwaves continued when it was revealed that the church was in a deep financial hole. Firings began almost immediately at GC2009. A bigger bombshell was dropped however when, in her opening address, the Presiding Bishop declared personal and confessional faith in Jesus Christ to be a heresy, and described Jesus Christ’s death on Calvary as merely “a waypoint” to God’s “greater dream,” and not the endpoint of salvation.

Her musings sent shockwaves throughout the Anglican Communion, sending evangelicals in particular, into apoplectic fits, confirming their worst fears that the woman running the show was a bishop in name only and not a believer. The worse it all got, the clearer it all became. Nobody was in any doubt any more. Global South archbishops winced wondering what alarm bells it would set off in their own countries among Islamic fundamentalists now that TEC had fully ratified sodomy and declared her unbelief.

Other TEC resolution actions seemed milder by comparison. Among the 400 pieces of legislation both houses did pass was a resolution to “consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion.” They also agreed to approve a partnership with the Moravian Church.

Following General Convention, a number of dioceses said they would not permit clergy to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but the die had been cast. There would be no going back.

One of the most liberal dioceses, Massachusetts announced in late November through its bishop Tom Shaw that he would allow clergy to celebrate same-sex marriage ceremonies, including signing marriage certificates.

A number of diocesan elections followed General Convention.

Minnesota placed a lesbian nominee, The Rev. Dr. Bonnie Perry, rector of All Saints’, Chicago, on a short list, but withdrew when it was clear she didn’t have a prayer of winning.

Then lightning struck. A few weeks later, The Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool, an activist lesbian, was one of two women selected to be bishop-elect of the Diocese of Los Angeles, becoming the second woman elected as Suffragan Bishop, paving the way for an international crisis.

Within hours, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a statement, surprising many with his speed, saying Glasspool’s election “raises very serious questions not just for The Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.”

In October, The Diocese of South Carolina held a special convention and passed a resolution, at the behest of their bishop Mark Lawrence, to withdraw from “all bodies of governance of TEC that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture and the church’s received doctrine and worship until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions.” Delegates passed a resolution affirming the Ridley Cambridge draft of the covenant.

Many of the orthodox parish priests found the conclusions of the diocese uncongenial and in December, the largest diocesan parish, St. Andrew’s with 1,300 members, went into a 40-day discernment period. On December 18, the church voted overwhelmingly to leave the diocese and join with the emerging Anglican Church of North America. To date the diocese has not reacted, but Lawrence is on record as saying that he will not litigate against fleeing parishes. It remains to be seen what officials at national church headquarters have to say and what pressure they exert on Lawrence.

On October 20, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, announced a new provision responding to the many requests that have been submitted to the Holy See from groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church.

The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus introduced a canonical structure that provides for such corporate reunion by establishing Personal Ordinariates, which will allow those groups to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony.

It was a bitter and unexpected blow to Archbishop Rowan Williams as it seemed to put a crimp on 40 years of ARCIC (unity) talks. It also took him by surprise. To date, no one has officially taken up the offer in England or the U.S., but the Traditional Anglican Communion with its Australian-based Archbishop John Hepworth seems ready to accept the offer.

In a strange turn of events, the archbishop got back at the Pontiff when he visited Rome in November. He had a 20-minute meeting with Pope Benedict, which was later described as “cordial”. The Vatican acknowledged that discussions “focused on recent events between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion”.

In a lecture he gave in Rome prior to meeting the Pope, Williams said the ordination of women is a secondary issue that does not amount to much and the Vatican would just have to get used to it. That seems very unlikely. The twin issues of the ordination of women as priests and bishops and Dr. Williams’ liberal attitude to homosexuality remain cutting edge issues that will not go away in the foreseeable future. The ordination of women to the episcopacy in the Church of England will only create greater stumbling blocks and fore traditionalists to this seriously about the Pope’s offer.

On December 18 Canon Kenneth Kearon announced that the final text of The Anglican Communion Covenant had been approved for distribution by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion and was on its way to the 38 Provinces for them to examine and vote on.

“The Covenant represents a further step in these relationships, building on and giving expression to the bonds of affection which shapes our common life,” he wrote.

Within a matter of days, scrutiny of the revised Ridley Cambridge Covenant with a modestly revised Section 4 came under criticism from orthodox and liberals alike. Nobody seems to think it will draw the Anglican Communion together. Few seemed to think The Episcopal Church would even sign off on it. Time will tell.

Whatever the future holds, what ultimately emerged in 2009 was that the Anglican Communion is now permanently fractured and a worldwide realignment already begun will not be turned around now or in the foreseeable future. In the words of the hymn writer “no turning back, no turning back.”

Retailers have urged ministers to scrap the historic restrictions on Sunday trading in time for next year’s Christmas sales, but campaigners argue that Sundays should be kept special out of respect for Britain’s Christian heritage.

Not really sure where I sit on this issue. In many ways it strikes me that one religion (Christianity) is impeding another (commercialism). For retailers to be freaking out that Boxing day falls on a Sunday next year, shows just how important this day is for the retailing world. Check out this image from Selfridges on Boxing day:-

Madness. Retail parks and shops are the new churches.

I made the mistake of picking up my sons bike from a retail park yesterday and frankly the whole experience was miserable. I naively assumed that it would be quieter at the shops, bwoy was I wrong.

In truth I still find it amazing that folks should have the desire to rush out shopping on Boxing day, even with all of the wonderous bargains available. I can only assume that shoppers enjoy the chaos and are driven by their desperate need for a retail ‘fix’ having been denied a day of shopping by that pesky Christmas day. I wonder how long it is until the ‘buzz’ of their new purchase wears off and they need another ‘fix’? It all seems so pointless, unsatisfying and temporal to me, but I accept that this is the way of the world nowadays. Thank God for Jesus.

Telegraph:-

Bosses from some of the country’s leading shopping centres have said that the limit on Sunday opening hours is outdated and is “lunacy” during a recession.

They fear that their revenues will be severely dented because Boxing Day, one of the busiest days in the retail calendar, falls on a Sunday in 2010.

But campaigners argue that Sundays should be kept special out of respect for Britain’s Christian heritage.

Among those thought to be lobbying the Government are managers at Westfield in London, Manchester’s Trafford Centre and Meadowhall in Sheffield.

Gordon McKinnon, operations director of the Trafford Centre, said: “Next year Boxing Day falls on a Sunday, it is going to be an absolute nightmare unless something is done.

“Turning people away in the current economic climate is just lunacy.

“The Government could take a real positive step to support the hard hit retail sector to eliminate this ridiculous situation on Sundays.”

Rules allowing shops to open on Sundays were introduced in the Sunday Trading Act 1994.

While small stores are free to open all day, those with floor space of more than 280 sq m may only open for six continuous hours between 10am and 6pm. On Easter Sunday they must remain closed.

Campaigners claimed that a majority of the public oppose a change to the rules.

A spokesman for Keep Sunday Special said: “Sundays should be a day for relationships with friends and family. A day of rest in our 24/7 culture with its pressures and stresses.

“But keeping Sunday special also respects our Christian heritage as a country and the faith of those who want to worship on that day.

“Sundays should be a day we look forward to – to read, walk, play, worship, eat, rest and spend time together.”

A spokesman for the Business Department said: “The Government has no plans to review or change the laws on Sunday trading.

“We carried out a wide ranging and thorough review in 2006 and concluded that the current laws strike the right balance between all the interests involved.”

Millions of Britons continued to flock to post-Christmas sales around the country yesterday, highlighting the period’s importance to retailers. Shopping centres claimed they had enjoyed yet more unprecedented figures after a record-breaking Boxing Day.

Bosses at Bluewater in Kent said that more than 200,000 people had visited and that yesterday was likely to have been the shopping centre’s busiest day of the year.

The Brent Cross centre in north London reported that 16,000 shoppers had come through its doors in the first hour of trading – a record for a bank holiday – and that about 90,000 people in all had visited.

The Trafford Centre said that it had 115,000 visitors in six hours on Sunday – 25 per cent more than last year. Meanwhile Bristol’s Cabot Circus had a footfall of 150,000 people – a 10 per cent rise compared with last year.

The number of shoppers on Britain’s high streets on Sunday was 17.9 per cent higher than a year ago – the highest rise on record, according to the market data firm Experian.

Richard Dodd, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said: “It’s been the strongest start to the post Christmas sales we have seen for a number of years – if not ever.”

However, he added: “The big question is, to what extent this momentum continues into the New Year and to what extent it is just an interlude in the gloom.”

The Church of England’s top clerics have condemned the latest wave of police intimidation against members of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, calling it “unacceptable” and a “further blow to civil liberties.”

Christian Post

The Church of England’s top clerics have condemned the latest wave of police intimidation against members of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, calling it “unacceptable” and a “further blow to civil liberties.”

Churchgoers, including clergy and local bishops, were barred from entering their churches on Christmas Day by police, who also threatened them with arrest and violence.

Archbishops of Canterbury and York Dr. Rowan Williams and Dr. John Sentamu, in response, said they “condemn unequivocally any move to deny people their basic right to worship.”

“To prevent people from worshiping in their churches on Christmas Day – unable to receive the church’s message of hope – is a further blow to civil liberties in Zimbabwe,” they said, noting the Church as the only lifeline for people “ground down by unceasing unemployment and lack of basic services”.

“Such unprovoked intimidation of worshipers by the police is completely unacceptable and indicative of the continued and persistent oppression by state instruments of those perceived to be in opposition,” the clerics added.

Earlier in the year, the Anglican Diocese of Harare brought charges against the police chief of Zimbabwe for sending police to block Anglicans from entering their churches for Sunday services.

Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri was accused by the diocese of working with the excommunicated Bishop of Harare Nolbert Kunonga to destabilize the Anglican Diocese of Harare.

Kunonga, a supporter of President Robert Mugabe’s regime, set up his own province following his expulsion from the Anglican Communion in 2007. He has since refused to heed a high court ruling to share churches with Anglican congregations and has been locked in a wrangle with the new Bishop of Harare, Chad Gandiya, over ownership of the church’s property within the diocese.

Kunonga and his supporters have frequently turned to violence and intimidation tactics to push people away from the Anglican Church in Harare. Interim Bishop of Harare, Sebastian Bakare, was forced in March to confront riot police when they burst into a Sunday service.

In a statement last year, Anglican bishops made clear that they do not recognize Kunonga as a bishop within the Anglican Communion and called for the full restoration of Anglican Property within Zimbabwe to the Church of the Province of Central Harare.

Some reports claim that Kunonga has been limited to conducting his rival services to socialist militiamen and police officers instead of church congregations.

Palestinian TV (Fatah) hijack Jesus for their cause and cast Him as a tortured Palestinian Muslim?

erm Jesus was a Jew?

On December 15, three Christian brothers in Gujranwala, Pakistan were poisoned by their Muslim employers who were angered by their faith and their demands for pay.

ChristiansUnite

On December 15, three Christian brothers in Gujranwala, Pakistan were poisoned by their Muslim employers who were angered by their faith and their demands for pay.

The brothers had left their jobs as sanitation workers at the Ferozewala Pul Banquet & Marriage Hall because they were not receiving their wages. However, they returned when their employers promised them their outstanding wages, a Christmas bonus and overtime pay.

When they returned, the brothers were still denied their pay. They were also harassed by staff members who spoke offensively to them about their Christian faith and called them derogatory names. When the brothers finally demanded their due pay, they were threatened with dire consequences if they did not continue their work. The hall owner and hall manager then forced the three to drink poison.

Their family was only contacted when two of the brothers, Imran Masih (29) and Irfan Masih (25), were already dead. At last report, the third brother, Aakash Masih (23), was in critical condition. The Peoples Colony police station has registered a murder and deception case against the hall owner and the hall manager. (Source: Compass Direct)

Pray that the Masih family will rest in the knowledge that the Good Shepherd walks with them through this difficult time (Psalm 23). Pray that Aakash will make a full recovery. Pray that the hall owner and hall manager will repent and come to faith in Christ.

It seems timely to add to this post the message from Pope Benedict delivered on the feast of the first Christian martyr (Stephen), in which he reminded the faithful of “the many believers who, in various parts of the world who undergo trials and suffering for the faith.”

…..”The One lying in the manger”, said the Holy Father, “is the Son of God made man, Who asks us to bear courageous witness to His Gospel, like St. Stephen who, filled with the Holy Spirit, did not hesitate to give his life for love of his Lord. He, like his Master, died forgiving his persecutors and helps us understand how the entry of the Son of God into the world gave rise to a new civilisation, the civilisation of love which does not cave in before evil and violence but breaks down barriers between men, making them brothers in the great family of the children of God”.

“Stephen’s witness, like that of the Christian martyrs, shows our fellow men and women, so often distracted and disoriented, in whom they must place their trust in order to give meaning to life. The martyr is, in fact, the person who dies in the certainty of being loved by God and, placing nothing before love for Christ, knows he has chosen the right side”.

Benedict XVI explained that “today, presenting us St. Stephen the Deacon as a model, the Church is also showing us that acceptance and love for the poor is one of the privileged ways to live the Gospel and to bear credible witness before the world of the Kingdom of God that is to come”.

After then highlighting how the Feast of St. Stephen “also reminds of us the many believers who, in various parts of the world, undergo trials and suffering for their faith”, the Pope called upon people to “support these people with prayer and never to fail in our own Christian vocation, always placing at the centre of our lives Jesus Christ, Who in these days we contemplate in the simplicity and humility of the manger”.

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that Pope Benedict – who was not injured when he was pulled to the floor in the bizarre incident – had already forgiven his assailant, Susanna Maiolo. Father Lombardi emphasized that there was no evidence Maiolo intended to harm the Pontiff.

Catholic Culture

Vatican leans toward clemency for Pope’s attacker

The woman who leapt at Pope Benedict XVI during midnight Mass at St. Peter’s basilica on Christmas Eve is being held in a psychiatric facility in Rome, while Vatican officials weigh their legal options.

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that Pope Benedict– who was not injured when he was pulled to the floor in the bizarre incident—had already forgiven his assailant, Susanna Maiolo. Father Lombardi emphasized that there was no evidence Maiolo intended to harm the Pontiff.

If Maiolo is deemed psychologically unstable—as most observers expect—she will not be prosecuted, the papal spokesman disclosed. Because the incident occurred inside the Vatican, the Holy See has jurisdiction over the case.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who also fell and broke his leg during the melee that broke out during the procession before midnight Mass, was reported in good condition after undergoing hip-replacement surgery at the Gemelli Hospital in Rome. The French-born prelate– a former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace who has undertaken several special diplomatic assignments in recent years—is 87 years old.

Source(s): these links will take you to other sites, in a new window.

‘Speedy probe’ promised for pope attack (ANSA)

Communique concerning Incident at Midnight Mass (VIS)

President Shimon Peres hosted a traditional ceremony at his official Jerusalem residence on Monday to welcome the Christian leadership in Israel.

Interesting comments from Israeli President Shimon Peres, especially relating to religious freedom in Israel. The Rosh Pina Blog, frequently comments on the persecution of Messianic Jews in Israel, especially at the hands of the ultra-orthodox Jews, so hopefully Peres can tackle this as well.

Jerusalem Post

President Shimon Peres hosted a traditional ceremony at his official Jerusalem residence on Monday to welcome the Christian leadership in Israel.

Peres offered his blessings to hundreds of Christian leaders, wishing them a “Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas.”

The president also stressed Israel’s fundamental commitment to freedom of religion, in Jerusalem and the holy sites.

“It is Israel’s responsibility to make sure every believer can pray to his or her Lord without interruption,” he said. “Israel is deeply committed to protecting the holy sites for every religion. We will not tolerate any offense toward any church, mosque or synagogue.”

Christian leaders in attendance included Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal, representative of the Armenian Patriarch Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, Custos of the Holy Land, Friar Pier Battista and Greek-Catholic Melkite Archbishop Elias Shakur.

The attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up an American plane was averted by God’s grace and courage.

I haven’t posted anything on the attempted airline bombing by the Islamic extremist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, because I was determined to focus in on the ‘Prince of Peace‘ this Christmas and not the so called ‘religion of peace’ which seeks to offer us a ‘Christmas surprise’ of more mass murder in our skies.

Melanie Phillips

So here we go again. Another international Islamic terrorist plot — and yet another British connection.

The attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up an American plane was averted only by luck and courage.

The incident obviously raises alarming questions about gross lapses in security. In particular, how did Abdulmutallab obtain a U.S. visa when he had been on an American watch-list of people with known terrorist connections?

But the deeper and more urgent issue for Britain concerns the key role this country has once again played in a Muslim’s trajectory to radicalisation and terror. Abdulmutallab, who claims to have been working for Al Qaeda, was an engineering student at prestigious University College London for three years until 2008.

He was actually refused an entry visa to Britain earlier this year, but only because the institution at which he said he wanted to study turned out to be non-existent.

How, people might well ask, could such a radical have been educated in Britain without the authorities jumping on him? Did MI5 know anything about him – especially since he was on a U.S. terrorism watch-list for two years?

As yet, we still don’t know much about this man’s history. It appears he became a religiously extreme Muslim at a school in Togo, but was further radicalised while studying in London before apparently going to Yemen and linking to Al Qaeda.

Who can be surprised? After all, this is ‘ Londonistan’ — the contemptuous term coined by the French security service back in the Nineties as they watched Britain become the central hub of Islamic terrorism in Europe.

Radicals flocked to the UK, attracted by Britain’s toxic combination of criminally lax immigration controls, generous health, education and welfare benefits and the ability to perpetuate their views through the British veneration of the principle of free speech.

Despite 9/11, the 2005 London Tube and bus attacks and the dozens of other Islamist plots uncovered in Britain, the astounding fact is that Islamic extremist networks are still allowed to flourish in Britain, largely through the obsession of its governing class with multiculturalism and ‘human rights’.

As a result, Britain remains — to its eternal shame — the biggest hub of Islamic radicalisation outside the Arab and Muslim world.

Extremists are still slipping into the country. The courts are still refusing to deport terrorists in order to protect their ‘human rights’ abroad.

London boasts the shameful reputation of the world’s premier money-laundry for terrorism, which shelters behind a label of ‘charity’ that the authorities choose not to challenge.

Not only is no action taken against extremist mosques and madrassas, but many British universities have been turned into terrorism recruitment centres.

More than four years ago, the intelligence expert Professor Anthony Glees listed 24 British universities which he said had been infiltrated by militant jihadists.

Indeed, the long list of Islamic terrorists who were educated at universities in Britain should in itself have raised concerns about radical Islam on campus. Yet Professor Glees was instead undermined by university authorities determined to bury their heads in the sand.

Last year, a poll by the Centre for Social Cohesion found — horrifyingly — that almost one in every three Muslim students in the UK said that killing in the name of religion was justified, with one third also in favour of a worldwide Islamic caliphate, or empire, based on Islamic sharia law.

The Centre also noted on campus the presence of extreme Islamist books in some prayer rooms, appearances by militant Islamist speakers, and links between extreme Islamists and the student Islamic Societies.

Yet the government refuses to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of the key groups that is radicalising students on campus by infiltrating and taking over these student societies and preaching its subversive message of Islamising the free world.

But it’s not just in the universities that Britain seems unable to recognise, let alone deal with, highly manipulative Muslim extremists. Astonishingly, similarly radical speakers are regularly invited into the very heart of the defence establishment, on courses teaching intelligence officials as well as soldiers and police officers about radical Islam.

The Government is funnelling money into extremist Islamist groups, and even employs Islamist radicals within government as advisers on — wait for it — ‘combating Islamic extremism’.

All in all, Britain’s defences against radical Islamism now resemble nothing so much as one giant hen-house over which a pack of ravenous foxes has been placed in charge.

The root cause of this madness is that British ministers and officials refuse to accept that what they are facing is religious fanaticism. They insist that Islamic extremism and terrorism have got nothing to do with Islam but are rather a ‘perversion’ of Islam. And they believe that the antidote to this is ‘authentic’ Islam — which they then use taxpayers’ money to promote.

But what they fail to grasp is that ‘authentic’ Islam is currently dominated by a deeply politicised interpretation which promotes holy war to conquer ‘infidels’ and insufficiently pious Muslims.

And although many such Muslims abhor this and have nothing to do with violence or extremism, it is an interpretation backed up by Islamic theology and history and currently supported by the major religious authorities in the Islamic world.

That is what the government often ends up inadvertently funding — with catastrophic results. For when exposed to this, even many hitherto secular Muslims become radicalised.

So it is hardly surprising if, when Abdulmutallab came to Britain, the country’s ostrich-like denial of Islamic fanaticism helped turn him from a religious extremist into a terrorist.

If Britain is ever to get on top of its terrorism problem, it has properly to acknowledge and tackle this radicalisation process. That means giving no quarter to this politicised interpretation of Islam.

And that means junking its current idiotic definition of an ‘extremist’ as merely someone who is committed to violence. It must outlaw instead the religious fanaticism that also threatens the British way of life.

Certainly, it is important not to demonise those British Muslims who pose no threat to this society.

So the Government should say that Muslims are welcome to live here on exactly the same basis as all other religious minorities – that they accept the principle of one law for all, and do nothing to threaten or undermine the prevailing culture.

That means an end to the increasing toleration of Islamic sharia law as the effective jurisdiction in Muslim areas, which so badly threatens in particular the safety and well-being of women, homosexuals and converts from the faith.

It means giving no quarter to the Muslim Council of Britain and all the other organisations and individuals who support Islamic extremism but are currently wooed by Whitehall.

It means outlawing Hizb ut-Tahrir. It means prosecuting the anti-West fanatics in mosques and madrassas. It means profiling Muslim extremists at airports.

None of these things is currently being done. Instead, radical Islamism is being appeased on the grounds that Muslims must not feel targeted in any way.

But in fact, this merely cuts the ground from under the feet of genuinely moderate British Muslims. For it is their friends and relatives, and worst of all their children, who are being radicalised through such a wrongheaded strategy.

The urgent question now has to be asked how many other Islamic terrorists in Britain are, like the quiet, studious, privileged Abdulmutallab, also lurking beneath the radar.

For in the defence of Western society against militant Islam’s war of conquest, the activities of the Christmas Day bomber show that once again Londonistan is the weakest link in the chain.

About 15 million Christians continue to live in the Middle East, the biggest non-Muslim minority left in the Muslim-majority countries of the region. Yet every year, more and more leave their homelands for overseas; pressurised into flight by systematic economic and social discrimination on the basis of their faith.

This is a fantastic post by Abu Faris over at the Spitoon blog, which is largely based on an article from the Hudson Institute, which is well worth a read.

For With G-d Nothing Shall Be Impossible

About 15 million Christians continue to live in the Middle East, the biggest non-Muslim minority left in the Muslim-majority countries of the region. Yet every year, more and more leave their homelands for overseas; pressurised into flight by systematic economic and social discrimination on the basis of their faith.

Of course, the Christians of the Middle East have not been alone in this. Starting with the sometimes sizeable Jewish minorities of the Arab world, religious minorities have been more or less forced out of the region since the end of World War II. Together with the Jews,  Zoroastrians, Mandeans, Bahai, Yazidis, and other, smaller groups have all left the region that gave birth to all the monotheistic faiths. Those that remain have often been reduced to what one Christian commentator has called an underground,  “catacomb” faith, recalling the persecuted faith of the Early Church.

Nina Shea, in a recent article, comments:

Within our lifetime, the Middle East could be wholly Islamicized for the first time in history. Without the experience of living alongside Christians and other non-Muslims at home, what would prepare it to peacefully coexist with the West? This religious polarization would undoubtedly have geopolitical significance.

She echoes the views of the Lebanese Catholic scholar, Habib Malik (son of the late Charles Malik, one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights):

The existence of settled, stable, prosperous, and reasonably free and secure native Christian communities in the Middle East has served in many instances as a factor encouraging Islamic openness and moderation, creating an environment of pluralism that fosters acknowledgment of the different other. . . . In Lebanon, before the outbreak of war in 1975, Muslim communities lived with their Christian counterparts in a free atmosphere of mutual respect. The fruits of this coexistence are evident today, even after so many conflicts, among educated classes of Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites, who stand out in the broader Arab Islamic context as full-fledged examples of modernity in every way. Islamic moderation is strengthened when Muslims live with confident co-national adherents of communities that respect women, do not condone suicide bombing or religious domination, are compatible with liberal democracy, defend personal and group rights, and are comfortable with many features of secular life.

Charles Malik is the founding director of the Foundation of Human and Humanitarian Rights -Lebanon, an organisation dedicated to a secular, democratic and liberal future for all the communities of modern Lebanon.

Elsewhere, the Copts of Egypt continue to suffer between the hammer of Islamist pogrom and the anvil of the state’s continued complicity in discrimination against the Coptic Orthodox Christian community. Shea quotes the brave and indefatigable Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Church, who has single-handedly attempted to preserve the ancient Coptic language (the last living descendent of the language of ancient Egypt) and the fragile culture of the Egyptian Christian community. For his pains, Bishop Thomas has faced repeated death-threats. Bishop Thomas recalled his own upbringing as a Copt in Egypt and the hope that his faith brings him:

I grew up memorizing the Quran, and a lot of the Hadiths, hearing the stories of the history, how the Islamic troops were victorious. And we have to study that and we have to write it in our exams and we have to praise it. Nowadays, the media has the same style and, wherever you are, you hear Quranic reciting. It shouts everywhere, and this is part of the pressure that people are living with. Even though we are facing a lot of hardship, still we are not weak because, simply, truth is strong, love is strong, hope is strong, and that enables the Christians in Egypt to continue.

Finally, Shea discusses the incredibly brave Anglican priest, Canon Andrew White. She writes of her friend:

The 45-year-old Anglican priest, afflicted with multiple sclerosis, voluntarily gave up his prestigious post at Coventry Cathedral to minister in Iraq. Since 2003, he has negotiated hostage releases, reconciled Sunnis and Shiites, operated free medical clinics, and supported Baghdad’s eight remaining Jews. White is the pastor of St. George’s Church, an ecumenical congregation he established for the remnants of Baghdad’s Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox, and Assyrian communities. Scores of his congregation have been murdered, and White himself was featured on a sectarian group’s “wanted” posters. He was once bound and beaten by security police.

I received a letter from him on October 25, which said in part, “I am very sorry to tell you that the two major bomb explosions in Baghdad this morning have done serious damage to the church compound. . . . Outside the church, at least 132 people were killed and over 600 injured. Destroyed fragments of their bodies have been thrown through windows of the church. . . . Many of our staff and church members remain unaccounted for. Lay Pastor Faiz and I have been trying in vain to reach them by telephone. Today was a terrible day for us. But even in the blood and trauma and turmoil, there are things for which we can, and indeed must, praise our G-d.”

There is a passage in the Gospel of Luke, one of many that never fails to move me. The Angel Gabriel has visited Mary. Mary is understandably troubled by the news that she is miraculously pregnant. Gabriel reminds her that her elderly kinswoman, Elizabeth, has also against the odds become pregnant:

And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

For with G-d nothing shall be impossible.

One might think of the Churches of the Middle East as Elizabeth, elderly, seemingly barren – and of their brave and devout followers there, who hope on hope that their Churches may survive their present troubles, that they might too be part of the light that is so needed unto the nations of that troubled region. One does not have to be a Christian, nor even a believer of any kind, to understand the demands that anyone of a liberal, democratic and progressive stance must take on this issue. The freedom to worship in peace and safety is part of all of our universal human rights. Perhaps the dwindling Christian believers of the Middle East might take some comfort in those words of the Angel Gabriel, spoken so long ago, to a poor, confused, terrified young woman in the middle of the night:

For with G-d nothing shall be impossible.

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